Thursday, July 06, 2006

Book Review: The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

Updated 07/06/06. I've got to admit, it's pretty embarassing when I don't get the title right and the book is sitting in front of me. Thanks, Jay! :) See his comments and Alicia's, too, about related books by Heinlein that elaborate on some of the characters in this book.

I was going on a trip and I needed a book. Paperback, so it would fit in my carry-on. Long enough--and interesting enough--to last two 5 hour + plane rides. Preferably cheap, so that if I left it somewhere or dropped it in the tub I wouldn't cry. Which also meant the book still had to be in print or available at my public library.

Digging through my bag of books bought at local Friends of the Library Book Sales, I found The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert Heinlein. I like Heinlein, mostly, and at 400 pages, this book fit the ticket.

Okay, Heinlein was an interesting writer. His early writings are much different, I think, than his later stuff. The early novels, like Starship Troopers, dealt with the military strategies and political maneuvering in fighting a war in space on planets far removed from Earth. Stranger in a Strange Land is about an alien who falls to Earth. Friday is about a grown-up creche baby who is trying to find her place in society. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls is part of the "Future History" series, so there's a lot of time travel and multiverses. Cat reminds me of The Number of the Beast, another one of Heinlein's later novels.

Richard Ames is having a special dinner with Gwen Novak. She leaves to visit the ladies' room and a stranger sits at the table. He begins to tell a strange story to Richard when he is killed by a dart.

The wait staff doesn't blink an eye. They swiftly remove the corpse and change the table linen. Gwen returns to the table and asks Richard what happened. He tells her. She tells him it's probably not safe for him to return to his apartment and offers hers. He agrees. She leaves and he follows some moments later.

But when he gets to her apartment, Gwen is not there. So he returns to his and finds--Gwen, asleep in his bed.

And that's just the first chapter.

Did I mention that Richard and Gwen live in a space habitat orbiting the moon (known as Luna)?

Nothing goes smoothly. No one is who (whom?) they seem to be. In fact, Richard Ames is not Richard Ames at all. When he finally confesses this to Gwen, whom he has married, she tells him that her name is not Gwen Novak.

The cat doesn't make an appearance until late in the novel. I haven't quite figured out why he's there at all, to tell you the truth. Because this is one of Heinlein's later novels, clothing is optional and the definition of being "faithful" to your spouse is rather fluid. As in The Number of the Beast and even in Stranger in a Strange Land, the ending is kind of amorphous. Like there might be a sequel. Or Richard and Gwen might be in another novel that I haven't read yet.

Several characters from other novels make an appearance: Lazarus Long, Deety, John Carter. Some characters are not just from other universes, they are actually fictional characters from other science fiction stories (I'm just guessing, but I believe Heinlein was a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote the series John Carter of Mars and Tarzan.)

This book never rests. The action continues page after page--one Amazon reviewer said, "It's kind of like riding a roller coaster." Yep, it is. And if you like roller coasters and old-time science fiction--especially the kind where the main character, who is an author himself, makes wise-cracks to his readers-- and you can suspend your need for a rational universe, then you'll enjoy this book.

This book is definitely not for everyone.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks